Homes hold more than dishes and dresses, they hold our history. Within the space of the last three months, I have found myself dismantling three intimately special and distinctly different family homes. Our home of 18 years, my parents’ home of 53 years and my husband’s family home. Completing the dismantling of just one home would have been seen as a serious accomplishment, but three, in three months, well, the word monumental comes to mind.
My mother-in-law’s home
The amount of accumulated stuff was staggering. Children of the depression, of which both my mother-in- law and my mom were, have a very hard time letting go, even if the article has lived beyond its useful years. Every room, cupboard, drawer and closet were filled. Every plastic bag, twist tie, elastic band, had been saved for future use. Every broken goblet or chipped tea cup, carefully wrapped and put aside for the repair that never happened. The greatest accumulation was clothes. I stopped counting at 67 pairs of shoes. Many were missing a heel. My husband remembers watching TV upstairs, while company filled the living room. Or coming home from school to find those big Woodward’s department store gift boxes of Christmas hams and cheeses waiting to be unwrapped. He knows the sound of the furnace or how the shaded front yard used to be grass and sunshine. This home is the origin of his life with a single parent and a dog named Natasha.
My parents’ home
In another city, in another province, also filled to the rafters, but with different things. My mom, who worked at the Birks jewelry store, squirrelled away every blue Birks box that ever came into the house. Mom saved every card she had received right back to her 21st birthday, and all the correspondence from all her friends and family, near and far, in the 65 years that followed. That house was afloat in paper, blue boxes, dishes and pictures. Binders and albums of photos from Barcelona to Banff, Montreal to Morocco, reels of home movies and stacks of slides of our early years, and even my parents’ first dates and one-week honeymoon to Florida. She even saved my baby hair.
Like flipping through a photo album, I can recall Christmas mornings as a kid, standing in the now empty living room, the silver tree exactly positioned year after year, in the same corner, me wishing it was real and not artificial. I can hear the steady sound of Dad’s clippers from the quiet backyard, audible in the kitchen, as he gave the hedge a haircut. The sound of the piano chords is particularly strong. My Dad always tinkling out a song, and that melody would float upstairs to my bedroom, just like the smell of Mom’s signature Yorkshire pudding Sunday dinners.
Homes hold our history, they represent who we are and what we value. They hold the cocktail shakers and the crystal stemware, and they reveal how we spend our leisure time, and our hard earned money. Homes, really, are the entrusted repository of our lives.
My house contained a plethora of our daughter’s firsts. Every cursive exercise, every hand scribble, every picture from school, every nursery book and stuffed dog, was saved.
We moved into this home six days after our daughter’s 3rd birthday. It was our first two-story, with a curved staircase and light-green carpet from top to bottom. The entire home had been wallpapered and I spent much of the first year painstakingly stripping it off. It wasn’t my dream home but it was an ideal location to raise a child. As I walk through my own empty house now, the last in my trio of assignments, memories come fast and I can hear our voices calling one another from different rooms.
“Hailey ,we have to go soon.”
“Turn on the oven, please.”
“Is the kettle boiling?”
I remember painting in preparation for my parents’ once-a-year visits. I recall hanging balloons and streamers from the family room ceiling to celebrate birthdays and digging little graves in the backyard for family pets who went. I know every curve of the staircase in the dark of night and every creak of the stairs. Noises that used to wake me became familiar and comforting. I know every view, especially from the hallway window as I wait for someone who is delayed. Each spring the tulips closest to the sunny back fence bloom first.
My fingers touch the inside of the closet door in our daughter’s bedroom, her height milestones penciled for historical record. Out her window the same crows and hummingbirds sit watching. I’ll miss them all, especially the woodpecker that greeted us with his ra-ta-ta-tat each spring looking for a mate.
I’ll remember how the sunshine dappled the wall where I painstakingly typed out my first book and the way the washing machine always bumped on the spin cycle and rattled the floorboards. My husband will remember the ocean that peaked out on the deck each morning. He would rise and stand and stare out as if expecting it to have disappeared over night. The upstairs wave my vacationing Dad would give me, enjoying a summertime beer on the deck, as I pulled into the driveway after a long commute. Dad died in October, his final wave to me was in this house. That image is crisp and clear.
As we lock the front door one last time, my husband quizzically looks at me and asks, “Are you crying?” Surprised at my attachment, I simply nod. Women make homes that mirror their hearts. This house, In fact these 3 houses, generously stored our entire family history and if these walls could talk, they would be telling the most wonderful stories.
Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer and co-author of Just Push Play-on Midlife. Leigh owns and operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the quaint ocean front community of San Agustinillo, Mexico. Her house can be viewed and rented at www.gosanagustinillo.com